Three Depth-Charges from the West Celebrate Outcome of Sri Lankan Power-Struggle

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A =Sri Lanka’s PM regains office, humiliating the President

ALL’S WELL that ends well, or so Shakespeare would have it, when a seeming tragedy turns into a heart-warmings tory of persistence and redemption. Such was the relief that Sri Lanka felt on December 16th, as seven weeks of political turbulence ended like a summer squall. After a period when the country had first two bickering governments and then no government at all, Ranil Wickremesinghe returned to office as prime minister just as suddenly as he had been tossed out in October.

Amidst much suspense, the legislative and judicial branches joined forces to contain a dangerous lunge by President Maithripala Sirisena to expand executive power. It was also, for many, satisfying to watch the lushly mustachioed former strongman, Mahinda Rajapaksa, exit the stage with a scowl, having failed to usurp the premiership that Mr Sirisena had tried to seize for him. Yet as every Sri Lankan knows, the events of the past few weeks represent only one act in amuch longer play. The island of 22m remains riven with bitter divisions,economically precarious and dangerously prone to high-pitched populism. With presidential, legislative and provincial elections all due within the next two years, the current intermission will not last long.

The curtain rose on the just-concluded act on October 26th, when Mr Sirisena, chafing after three years of “cohabitation” with Mr Wickremesinghe, abruptly fired his prime minister. The two were ostensibly allies. In 2015 the liberal-leaning Mr Wickremesinghe (pictured) had given crucial backing to Mr Sirisena’s bid for the presidency. Together they formed a broad coalition that successfully ended the ten-year rule of Mr Rajapaksa, under whom the army brutally crushed a quarter-century rebellion by minority Tamils, but whose government also leant towards nepotism, repression and cronyism, and towards China rather than such traditional partners as India and the West.

At the start of his term Mr Sirisena spewed venom against Mr Rajapaksa, from whose party he had only recently split. He also enthusiastically embraced a constitutional amendment designed to trim executive powers, and so to prevent the return of a strongman president. As time passed Mr Sirisena was known to feel growing discomfort with Mr Wickremesinghe. Not only was the prime minister a more urbane and annoyingly aloof man. His liberal United National Party (UNP) pursued a range of policies, from post-war justice and reconciliation to fiscal reforms, that angered Mr Sirisena’s prickly, nationalist followers.

 Yet it still came as a shock when the president followed the sacking of Mr Wickremesinghe by swearing in Mr Rajapaksa to succeed him. More shocking still were Mr Sirisena’s antics in subsequent weeks,as it became increasingly clear that he had breached the limits that he himself had helped set to presidential power. The president first sent parliament on a holiday, reckoning that during their furlough Mr Rajapaksa would be able to win over enough UNP members to gain a majority. When it became clear that Mr Wickremesinghe still controlled parliament, the president disbanded it, calling for a snap election, so breaking a rule that such action can only be taken fourand a half years into a parliamentary term.

 Even as Mr Rajapaksa’s men took over ministries and issued decrees, things began to unravel. Mr Wickremesinghe, for one, refused to quit his official residence. The country’s Supreme Court first put a hold on the dissolution of parliament, allowing it to prove repeatedly that Mr Wickremesinghe retained a majority. Then, by seven judges to none, the court ruled the president’s act unconstitutional. Another court, meanwhile, had suspended Mr Rajapaksa’s government, and looked set to declare it invalid. Mr Sirisena, who only a week before had sworn he would never appoint Mr Wickremesinghe, even if all 225 MPs insisted on him, gave in.

 and powerful interests, particularly in the security establishment. Mr Rajapaksa’s return had looked increasingly likely; now he stands disgraced in the eyes of many. The crisis may also empower Mr Wickremesinghe’s government,so far lack lustre in its achievements, to push through parts of its agenda that the president has sabotaged.

 Sri Lanka and protect the Tamil fighters who tried to destroy it”. Mr Rajapaksa in his resignation speech rapped his rivals as “anti-national” traitors. Henchmen blame outside meddling for their ouster, telling supporters that “certain foreign nations” siphoned millions of dollars to NGOs that interfered with national security. Sri Lankans are used to loud, nasty politics, but this kind of talk does not fit a plot with a happy ending.

B = Krishan Francis, of AP in Washington Post ….

Sri Lanka’s president accused newly reappointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of corrupt leadership in a scathing speech Sunday in which he voiced doubts about their ability to work together and signaled the 2-month political crisis is far from resolved.

President Maithripala Sirisena administered the oath that returned Wickremesinghe to office, then gave a speech soon after the ceremony, telling the prime minister and a group of his lawmakers that he can’t find people of honesty and integrity to help him take the country forward.

“With the issues we have, I am not sure what guarantees we have that we could go on this journey together,” Sirisena told Wickremesinghe.

The swearing in took place privately, with only a few lawmakers in attendance and media not permitted. It initially indicated an end to the impasse, but Sirisena’s speech is a sign of more acrimony, possibly leading to early parliamentary elections. A new Cabinet is expected to be sworn in soon.

 Wickremesinghe spoke separately at his official residence and refrained from responding to Sirisena. “Now I will assume duties of the office of primeminister,” Wickremesinghe told his cheering supporters.

“Unfortunately, during the past few weeks, the progress of this country and the development programs that we undertook were stalled,” he said. “Not only that, the country went backward. Today we commit firstly to bring back normalcy and resuming the development program.”

 In his televised speech, Sirisena said his reasons for firing Wickremesinghe included a lack of interest in helping investigate an alleged insider trade during a bond issue, in which a former Central Bank governor who is a close friend of Wickremesinghe is implicated.

He also said Wickremesinghe’s ministers alienated Buddhist monks by having them arrested for keeping unlicensed captive elephants at temples. Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist nation with an influential clergy.

 Sirisena also criticized Wickremesinghe for investigations into alleged abuses during the long civil war that ended in 2009. The president said Wickremesinghe had only government soldiers arrested but had not looked intoprosecuting former Tamil Tiger rebels he said were hiding in foreign countries.

“My view is that we should prosecute everyone, or else we should negotiate with the international community and free our soldiers (from accusations),” he said.

Both sides were accused of grave wartime abuses. According to a U.N. report, at least 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed just in the final months of the fighting.

 Wickremesinghe had insisted his abrupt firing on Oct. 26 was unlawful. Sirisena’s choice for prime minister, former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, lost two no-confidence votes in Parliament but continued to hold the office with Sirisena’s support.

 When his opponents went to court, the Court of Appeal suspended Rajapaksa and his Cabinet from functioning in their offices. Rajapaksa asked the Supreme Court to lift the suspension, but it refused and extended thesuspension until mid-January, forcing Rajapaksa to resign on Saturday.

The suspension had left Sri Lanka without a government and in danger of being unable to spend government money from Jan. 1. It is also committed to repay $1 billion in foreign debts in January.

“We can be proud of the way our Parliament and Supreme Court did their duties according to the law,” Wickremesinghe said Sunday, adding that the Supreme Court had strengthened the freedom of the citizens by interpreting the law accurately.

“We all need a normal life, we need our progress and it is to this that we are committed,” he said.

Sirisena was health minister in Rajapaksa’s Cabinet when he defected tojoin Wickremesinghe and challenge Rajapaksa in the 2015 presidential election. After winning the election, he formed a government with Wickremesinghe as prime minister, but the two leaders started to have differences over economic policyand the investigations of alleged wartime abuses.

C = Krishan Francis of AP:  “Sri Lankan lawmakers question Rajapaksa’s parliamentary seat” ….

Members of Sri Lanka’s Parliament on Tuesday questioned whether Mahinda Rajapaksa, who recently quit as prime minister, can hold his seat after earlier relinquishing membership in the political party he represented in the last election.

Lakshman Kiriella, a lawmaker from the ruling United National Front coalition, raised the question in Parliament soon after Speaker Karu Jayasuriya announced that he accepted Rajapaksa as the opposition leader because President Maithripala Sirisena had withdrawn from a national unity government with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Jayasuriya said he would rule on the matter on Friday.

“We don’t want the constitution to be violated any further,” said another lawmaker, M. A. Sumanthiran. “If some members have ceased to be members of Parliament, they must withdraw from this chamber now.”

Rajapaksa last month dropped membership in his former party, led by Sirisena, to represent the Sri Lanka People’s Front, the party he formed and served as shadow leader. He took the step after Sirisena dissolved Parliament and called for fresh elections, aiming to form a base independent of Sirisena.

Rajapaksa, who is popular among Sri Lankans for winning a decades-long civil war that ended in 2009, was the party’s biggest crowd-puller.

However, the Supreme Court restored the same Parliament, calling its dissolution illegal.

 Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister on Saturday, ending weeks of political instability in the country. The crisis was triggered by Sirisena’s move to withdraw his party from a national unity government, sack Wickremesinghe as prime minister and appoint Rajapaksa in his place.

Wickremesinghe insisted that he was removed illegally, while Rajapaksa failed to secure majoritysupport in Parliament.

Sirisena dissolved Parliament and called for fresh elections, but the Supreme Court suspended the move and restored Parliament. Later, the court issued a final decision, declaring the dissolution of Parliament and the call for elections illegal.

By that time, Rajapaksa’s opponents had defeated him in two no-confidence votes, but he held on to the office with Sirisena’s support until the Court of Appeal suspended him and his Cabinet from functioning in their offices.

Rajapaksa and his suspended ministers went to the Supreme Court seeking to remove their suspensions, but the court refused.

Rajapaksa was thenforced to resign to avert a crisis that would have prevented the government from spending state funds from Jan. 1 without a budget.

 Sirisena then restored Wickremesinghe, the man he ousted in October, as prime minister.

PLUS D = Minister for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field welcomes resolution of the political situation in Sri Lanka

Minister for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field said: “I welcome progress made towards the peaceful resolution of the political situation in Sri Lanka. The outcome is a welcome indication of the resilience of Sri Lanka’s judicial and democratic institutions, and of effective checksand balances between state powers. The UK will continue to stand by Sri Lanka as a close partner and friend, supporting Sri Lanka as it works to deliver sustainable and accountable reform to reinvigorate the economy, improve governance, and safeguard human rights across the country.

UK Ministers have made a number of statements since the current outbreak of political tension in Sri Lanka on 26 October, calling on all parties to uphold the constitution and due legal and political process.The UK is committed tosupporting the Sri Lankan Government’s efforts to improve the human rights situation in the country. The UK is providing Sri Lanka with £8.3 million of Conflict, Stability and Security Fund funding over three years, to include support for police reform and training, reconciliation and peace building,resettlement and


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